Gaming In 2011: The Hits…And The Misses
Regardless of the controversy surrounding Team Bondi’s demise, this hugely-hyped detective thriller still stands as one of the best games of the year. And despite the fact that its investigative gameplay was not as groundbreaking as many expected, it got so many things right.
Mindblowing performance capture and facial animations allowed for incredibly lifelike NPCs and some of the best acting ever seen in a videogame, while the expansive narrative – bolstered by unusually sharp and sophisticated writing – span a murky tale of crime, corruption and conspiracy in post-war LA that has to rank as one of the most involving and gripping plots in years. Ultimately, the simple fact that LA Noire offered such a refreshing style and emphasis for a mainstream, Triple A blockbuster – and unashamedly put atmosphere and intelligence ahead of action and cheap theatrics – is reason alone to celebrate it.
Dead Space 2 – and other spectacular seconds
The return of space engineer Isaac Clarke got 2011 off to a blistering start – with survival-horror’s new flagship franchise revelling in epic encounters, phenomenal set-pieces, and mind-blowing locations – but this was just the start of a whole new wave of quality comebacks.
Portal 2 built upon its illustrious predecessor, combining ingenious puzzling and fantastic scripting to create a great comedy classic; the long-awaited Starcraft II provided one of the best RTS campaigns ever-realised; and The Witcher 2 was an RPG of real depth and imagination.
Later in the year, Dark Souls delighted those up for a hefty challenge and mustered a gameworld every bit as deep, meaningful and rewarding as it was deadly, while Batman: Arkham City continued Rocksteady’s remarkable work with the dark knight, transporting the gadget-wielding, goon-crunching action onto a bigger stage and ramping it up to even greater heights in the process.
Embodying the very definition of ‘epic’, the latest Elder Scrolls colossus has had fans slaying dragons, clearing dungeons and hunting-down rare artifacts for nearly two months solid, and its mind-blowing sales success and overwhelming critical acclaim are well-deserved for an experience that is – bugs aside – one of the most extensively impressive in gaming history.
The vast and captivating landscape offers a seemingly never-ending host of places to explore, quests to attempt and storylines to uncover, while the countless possibilities for surprising encounters, unique occurences and ‘you’ll never guess what happened’ moments have ensured its place as the most talked-about title of the year.
Nathan Drake’s third outing was – much-like his first two excursions – a proper adventure, complete with remarkable locations and jaw-dropping action sequences that helped enshrine the globe-trotter’s franchise as an essential fixture in the modern gaming experience. For sheer spectacle and exhilirating set pieces, no one does the job better than Uncharted.
To The Moon
Proving once again that most of the originality and innovation in the industry can now be found within the indie sector, Freebird’s phenomenal, offbeat creation invited gamers into the life and memories of a dying man – with beautiful, poignant and overwhelmingly powerful results. In essence, this kind of creation is the perfect antidote to the usual bluster and bombast that dominates mainstream gaming – offering up something more than entertainment. Something profound.
Dragon Age II
Severely lacking in scale and scope, and inviting players to re-visit the same-old tiresome locations again and again, Bioware’s medicore misfire angered fans and left RPG enthusiasts scratching their heads. It swapped the epic story and thrilling adventure of the original for banal exposition and masses of dull, disposable content; retained the first game’s weaknesses but surprisingly few of its core strengths; and toned-down the RPG elements to such an extent that the whole experience became decidely one-dimensional.
Perhaps the overriding lesson of Dragon Age II is that swifter sequels doesn’t mean better sequels – a truth borne out to some extent by the recently-released Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (where once invigorating gameplay has now been inevitably reduced to ‘more of the same’).
Battlefield 3′s Campaign
Yes, the multiplayer action is almost tear-inducingly brilliant, but to say the big-selling COD-botherer’s single player experience was disappointing would be a severe understatement. It was woefully-short and decidedly uninvolving – sometimes feeling like one big cutscene with the odd moment of interactivity thrown in. Some have suggested that Battlefield might do well to return to its multiplayer-only roots, and on this evidence it’s hard not to argue otherwise.
Rise Of Nightmares
This was supposed to be the Kinect game that proved Microsoft’s shiny new motion-gaming toy could support ‘hardcore’ titles as well as fluffy casual ones. It wasn’t.
The whole experience of trying to brawl with hosts of zombies, while performing actions as simple as walking and looking around, proved a great deal more challenging, clumsy and frustrating than if one were to simply use something old stick-in-the-muds refer to as ‘a control pad’. And it was hard to see what the benefits and advantages would be even if such motion-controlled action were perfected through Kinect. The fact that the game itself was cheesy, and not actually very good, really didn’t help.
Nintendo 3DS Launch
Some troublesome issues with the hardware and an unimpressive range of launch titles left Nintendo’s latest handheld creation with disappointing sales and a muted fan response, despite overall praise for the technology on show. The underperformance of the 3DS has also been suggested as a possible sign of things to come for handheld consoles in general, with the popularity of cheap phone games beginning to cut into the comparitively expensive handheld market. Given this, it will be interesting to see how Sony’s Vita fares next year.
Duke Nukem Forever
Ok, so given its notoriously troubled development process, the odds were this was always going to be disappointing. But though a minority profess to enjoy the tiresome heap of tripe that ultimately emerged, the overwhelming reaction from doubters and fans alike was one of staggered indignation – and understandably so.
Crass, unfunny humour and horrific game mechanics were two big problems, but the major issue was undoubtedly the fusing of dated style and tropes with undesirable modern trends such as the two-gun limit, resulting in an experience that was neither an entertaining trip down old-school memory lane, nor a slick update of a much-loved classic.
Please stop hailing to the king, people. It’ll only encourage him.
What have been your own personal gaming highs and lows of 2011? Feel free to add your comments below…